Fr. Louis Canino, OFM

Fr. Louis Canino, OFMFr. Louis Canino, OFM, who was born in upper New York State, was educated in the parochial system of Syracuse, N.Y. He says he was inspired to the priesthood by a Franciscan priest early on. Even though he tried to dismiss this calling in high school, he felt more drawn than ever while at a senior retreat. His resistance was finally broken when his confessor convinced him to at least try it.

Fr. Canino started his seminary training with the Franciscans in Callicoon, N.Y. From there, he went through an intense year of prayer as a novice in Lafayette, N.J. Here, he was able to begin grasping onto the spirituality of St. Francis. After graduating from the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Fr. Canino was ordained a Franciscan priest on Sept. 1, 1969.

Fr. Canino’s first assignment was as an assistant pastor at St. Elizabeth Church in Wyckoff, N.J. Two years later, he was transferred to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. Here he shared the ministry with 55 other friars for five years.

Energized with a master’s degree in pastoral counseling, Fr. Canino was sent to St. Joseph Church, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he served as pastor for six years. Then, as he tells it, a very reluctant, yet obedient, Fr. Canino, who had dreams of a prayer center, was reassigned to St. Anthony Shrine as rector.

This was to become for him a very strong conversion experience as he met and embraced his personal leper — this, in the persons of the needy people waiting in the breadline outside his chapel. It was a time of deinstitutionalization of patients with mental illnesses who had nowhere to go. And where there had been no breadline when he left St. Anthony Shrine in 1976, upon his return, there was now a line of 150 to 200 people per day. Motivated by Fr. Canino, community and religious leaders —combined with the efforts of the Franciscan friars and the generosity of friends — renovated an old building in downtown Boston to shelter and feed the homeless. Suitably, this shelter was named St. Francis House. Fr. Canino was named one of the directors of this facility, where he served until 1989.

Two months into a year’s sabbatical, Fr. Canino was called by his provincial. It was then that he first expressed his view on the need for a “prayer center.” Yet again, reluctantly but in complete obedience to his superiors, Fr. Canino went to Greensboro, N.C., to establish The Franciscan Center instead of fulfilling his dream — as he says: “God works in mysterious ways.”

At The Franciscan Center, Fr. Canino saw the need for spiritual direction, counseling, and programs on spirituality. Weekends saw him filling in at St. Pius X Church. He also filled in as campus minister at both Bennett College and North Carolina A & T State University. As the years passed, Fr. Canino expanded his services to other area parishes.

According to Fr. Canino, he receives numerous calls from within and outside of the Diocese of Charlotte, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, with a variety of questions on spirituality. This makes The Franciscan Center like a “resource bank,” a “Catholic haven” wherein non-judgmental listening is the key to assisting those who seek advice on topics including sin, estrangement from the church, divorce and even decent housing — this, along with two talks a week and Mass every Wednesday.

With all of this, Fr. Canino never lost sight of his dream for a prayer center. With the help and generosity of the Friends of the Franciscans, St. Francis Springs Prayer Center will at last become a reality. Resting on 140 acres, it is located about 30 miles north of Greensboro. It will have meeting facilities, scheduled conferences and a justice and peace component. The Center’s purpose is to “provide a peaceful atmosphere for prayer and contemplation that has life changing possibilities for people of different faith traditions, all in the spirit of St. Francis.”

At the same time its mission is to sensitize all to the social justice teachings of the Gospel and the Church.

Already there are bookings from churches in the Diocese of Charlotte, the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Raleigh. Another important factor is that people of other faith traditions are validating the need for this type of prayer center in the Triad area.

All who join this worthwhile effort give four to six hours per week at The Franciscan Center which will not lose its importance in Greensboro.

To avoid interference with the building up of the local faith communities, Fr. Canino says that there will be no scheduled Sunday Masses at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. Prayerfully, with the help of Secular Franciscans and with other volunteers, the spirituality center will be transformative like the other ventures Fr. Canino has been committed to in his ministry.

By Rev. Mr. Gerald Potkay
The Catholic News & Herald
Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.

—This essay was written in 2002 when Fr. Louis was serving as Director of The Franciscan Center in Greensboro, N.C. It appeared in the March 2002 issue of The Anthonian magazine.